The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Today could be the day

We last had a temperature above freezing in Chicago at 7pm on February 4th, 16 days and some hours ago. Yesterday afternoon it got all the way up to -2°C before sodding off to bed. Close enough to give us oceans of meltwater on dark-colored streets and sidewalks, but still not, you know, above freezing.

Today, though, the National Weather Service predicts the temperature will just crest freezing around 2pm, and hover there for about 12 hours. This won't get rid of the meters-high snowdrifts in our parking lots and minor-league ballparks, but it will remind us that spring begins a week from tomorrow.

Meanwhile, at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, their autumn has gotten a bit chilly, with today's noon temperature hitting -50°C with a wind-chill of -65°C.

More winter photos

If the forecast holds, today will be the 15th of 16 straight days of below-freezing temperatures, and the 19th consecutive day with 30+ centimeters of snow on the ground. On Sunday, though the temperature will just barely break the freezing point (1°C predicted), this winter will move from 5th to 4th place in history on that last statistic. Officially O'Hare has 46 cm of snow right now, and until Tuesday's predicted mostly-sunny 6°C, not a lot of that will melt. (The last time we had this much snow on the ground for three weeks was the 25-day period ending 12 January 2001, which sounds impressive until you realize I remember very clearly the 46-day stretch of 30+ centimeters of snow that ended 28 February 1979.)

It has some aesthetic appeal, though:

And then we have this, along the north wall of my apartment building (and thus never to get direct sunlight), the result of 40 centimeters of snow on the roof:

So, if you do a little math, 40 cm of snow * 102 square meters of roof served by that downspout = 41 cubic meters of snow, which at 10:1 water content makes 4.1 cubic meters (yes, that's 4.1 tons, or 4,100 liters). If only one centimeter of snow melts, 410 liters of water will cascade off the roof, and if it's -19°C, it'll re-freeze on its way down. Multiply this times all the roofs in Chicago and you get more than a few collapses. (This is our biennial reminder that the developer who converted our building into condos back in 1996 may have skimped a little on insulation between the top-floor units and the roof.)

And I hate Ted Cruz

The junior US Senator from Texas, Republican Ted Cruz, has demonstrated a particular unfitness for office this week:

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Ted Cruz jetted to Cancún. And although the emperor was at least ensconced in a lavish, louche palace, the senator from Texas was stuck in economy class with the peasantry.

Cruz’s appeal as a politician, such as it is, has never been about being lovable or relatable, but the latest incident is embarrassing even by his standards. He was spotted on a flight to Mexico yesterday, amid a catastrophic storm that has left Texans without power, heat, and sometimes water, huddled in freezing homes and community centers as the state’s electrical grid verges on collapse. More than a dozen of his constituents have already died. Cruz is headed home today—if not necessarily chastened, at least eager to control the damage. In a statement, he said he took the trip at his daughters’ behest. Blaming your children is a curious tack for an embattled politician, but he doesn’t have much else to work with.

It is tempting to turn the “hypocrite” label on Cruz, but his sin is worse. Every politician is a hypocrite at some point. Cruz’s error is not that he was shirking a duty he knew he should have been performing. It’s that he couldn’t think of any way he could use his power as a U.S. senator to help Texans in need. That’s a failure of imagination and of political ideology.

Cruz’s callousness about his constituents’ suffering is not just morally appalling. It is also—and this probably weighs more heavily on Cruz—politically dangerous. There’s growing evidence that even Republicans drifted toward a larger role for government in the Donald Trump era.

In related news, former US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) reports on Facebook that his "And I Hate Ted Cruz" coffee mugs are flying off the shelves today.

A quarter of Texas has no electricity

Extreme cold and winter weather slammed Texas over the weekend, dropping temperatures to -9°C in Houston and causing snow in Galveston. But Texas politics has made the situation far, far worse as power failures have affected a quarter of all Texans:

As this map makes obvious, politics seems to have caused the worst of it. The right-wing Republican government of Texas slashed regulations and even disconnected Texas from the National Grid to avoid Federal rules. And now, the poorest and hardest-hit in the state are being charged extortionate rates for what little electricity the state can produce:

Until recently, the average price for electricity in Texas was a bit more than 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even before the storm's full effects were felt, Griddy warned its customers on Friday that prices rose to an average of around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Things got even worse over the weekend and the Presidents Day holiday.

With demand high and market pressures raising costs, wholesale power prices "were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour," Reuters reported.

While Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for an investigation into the regulatory body that his own party created, conservative trolls have tried to deflect their own malfeasance by claiming the renewable energy producers in Texas have failed, even though (a) only 10% of Texas electricity comes from renewables and (b) the renewable sources have actually increased their output to meet the new demand after the storm.

To put it bluntly, government policies favoring wealthy white men in Texas caused this entirely preventable, and entirely predictable, catastrophe. And, equally as predictable, the people most responsible for endangering the lives of their state's poorer and browner citizens have tried to blame everyone except themselves for it.

Meanwhile, about 10% of Oregon's residents went without electricity after a massive ice storm knocked out power lines and equipment throughout the Willamette Valley, resulting in the largest power outage in the state's history. Unlike the situation in Texas, this will not result in predatory pricing or people starving to death, because Oregon has a functioning government.

Laissez les bons temps neiger

It snowed overnight. Actually, it snowed from Sunday afternoon until about 4am today, so we have a bit of accumulation:

Our official weather station at O'Hare reported 53 cm of snow on the ground at 6 am, including yesterday's record 16 cm of new snow. (Midway Airport, on the Southwest Side, reported 46 cm for just this storm.) So far, 46 cm of snow has fallen since February 1st at O'Hare, about 3 times the normal amount, while we're having the coldest February in history, averaging -10.4°C.

And yet, because so many people work from home right now, and the snow fell over a two-day period rather than over just a few hours, the city hasn't completely shut down. It's not 2011, in other words.

Brrrrrrr

Last night, the temperature got down to -21°C for the first time since 31 January 2019—when it got down to -29°C. But even in 2019 we only had to endure, at most, 7 days below freezing. Today is our 10th in a row, with another 6 predicted. (It may get up to 2°C next Sunday.) If the freeze goes through Friday, we'll have had a longer freeze than the 14 days we had ending 7 January 2018.

Of course, I lived through the longest below-freezing period in Chicago's history, the 43 days between 28 December 1976 and 8 February 1977. Wow, I hope that never happens again.

And hey, spring begins two weeks from tomorrow.

You'd never guess spring is 17 days away

We're having a very cold, very snowy February:

The average temperature for February 2021 so far is among the coldest ever when compared with monthly averages going back to 1875. Even if Chicago recorded normal temperatures for the rest of the month, 2021 would still rank in the top third of coldest Chicago Februaries.

When it comes to snow, 2021 is also ahead of the curve, with a total of 193 mm. Normally there would have been only 89 mm. It will take some work to catch up to the record snowiest February: 737 mm in 2011, the year of the “Snowmageddon” blizzard.

So far this February, our -9.0°C average temperature makes this month the 4th-coldest on record, and it feels even colder following January's above-normal -1.6°C average. Fun fact: February 2015 tied for the coldest on record (-9.7°C). Also fun fact: I'm really ready for spring.

Cutting myself some slack

I'm once again not going to get to 10,000 steps today, and that bothers me irrationally. I just need to accept that when it's -10°C and snowing, and I've got a full day of work and chorus business to do that will take me until 10pm, it's OK not to take an hour-long walk to get the steps I need. I'll still manage over 5,000, and I'm certain I'll hit 280,000 for the month. (The worst month I have on record was January 2015, when I got 310,514 steps—just barely 10,000 a day.)

OK, I'm now going to bundle up, put on boots and a mask, and go for what will certainly be a brisk walk. And then I'm not going outside again until tomorrow.

Nope, not getting 10k steps today

At least, I don't think so. I'm about to go to a very small wedding where somehow we'll all stay two meters apart, meaning I'll be in my car or indoors all day. Outdoors, meanwhile, it's -13°C. It got down to -16°C overnight, so this qualifies as an improvement.

I was hoping to make 10k steps every day this year, but living in Chicago and having some ability to balance "would like to" against "have to" goals, I say no to today.

I will get 5,000 though. I haven't missed that number in six years.